Artist Interview Volume 1: Adam Novak

We sat down with local artist Adam Novak to chat about his New Orleans collection, the Chicago artist community and what to expect from in the coming months. His NOLA collection is on display through February 26 and available for purchase!

How did you come across Bite Cafe and why did you decide to display your NOLA pics in the cafe?

I’m a huge fan of Bite Cafe and I’m a regular, drinking your coffee and enjoying your specials a couple days a week. I live around the corner in the Humboldt Park neighborhood and so I often start my days at Bite Cafe.  Mardi Gras is almost upon us and I thought the restaurant could use a colorful reminder that it’s probably best to pack your bags and head south to New Orleans for the festivities. Why sit and endure another Polar Vortex when you could be drinking beer and catching beads down in New Orleans?

Do you feel that there is a connection between art and food?

There is definitely a connection between art and food and drink. I think great art should surprise you, and for me great visual art sends a shock wave throughout my system. The shock starts somewhere in my eyeballs, radiates out into my limbs and lunges, ping-pongs around my brain, and then being a photographer, makes its way back into my eyes. This process of ingesting art makes me want to create art and it is what I live for. Great food does something similar starting in the mouth and gut, and is definitely an art in itself. Being a photographer, I spend a lot of time roaming and working up an appetite.

How would you describe the NOLA art scene and what connection do you feel to the city?

The New Orleans art scene is a drug. It hits you as you cross the causeway headed South across Lake Pontchartrain on Interstate 55. You may as well toss your winter clothes right into the swamp below.  You start imagining all the strange creatures down in that swamp water and that feeling only grows as you see massive flames coming off the oil refineries in the distance. Suddenly, you kinda speed up and start driving a lil’ more reckless. As an artist a sense of possibility and freedom kick in. You can be whatever you want to be in New Orleans, and the only people that might make a judgement are the police. And they won’t bother you unless you really take it too far. New Orleans ain’t America. All the corporate BS running the country with all its phony truths and advertising seem to have been washed away by hurricanes. You realize that New Orleans has a shelf life. It will expire like oysters and you feel it in the landscape and the people. Time seems to have another dimension. Just don’t drink too many of those Daiquiris and think you can fly and jump into the Mississippi. And also stay off of Bourbon street. New Orlean’s Mardi Gras is like Chicago’s Halloween on steroids. As if Chicago’s Halloween lasted two weeks with daily parades and you could wear as many costumes as you’d like.  

What is your favorite thing on the Bite Cafe menu?

My favorite is the bite hash with the pork shoulder. The juicy pork, poached eggs, and hollandaise sauce mixed in with the brussels & baby kale just hits the spot. If I want to go easy, I recommend the breakfast taco with the chorizo.  

How do you try and foster community amongst artists in Chicago? Do you have any tips on how local business (such as restaurants) can help support the community?

I live with a bunch of photographers and painters and we all hang together, throw each other work, and bounce artistic ideas off of each other. Cafes are great for art because everybody sits around and eats and looks at the work for long periods of time. I’m not really all that sure how we could help support the community. Maybe a newsletter for what sort of art is going on in Ukrainian Village, Humboldt Park, and Wicker Park neighborhoods would help? Something that is on paper and tangible and easy to find. Maybe a call for work by the restaurants or some sort of competition to exhibit art locally would help. I’m really not sure and I am all ears.

What can we expect from Adam in 2019?

I’m working on a much more serious set of photographs of the local homeless population in our neighborhood and around the Chicago highways. My process has evolved as has the project. I created a care package for each person and I ask the homeless to write a statement on the back of their homeless sign and then I buy the homeless sign for $20 to $30 dollars. Then I take a photograph of them with the sign and I do a sound recording asking them some basic facts. Everybody to date has been very thankful for the help and eager to participate, and it makes me feel like I’m lending a hand, but also creating something along the way. My vision is a fundraiser and an exhibit where the actual homeless signs and the portraits and statements are exhibited. I would like the viewer to be forced to pick up the actual sign so that they read the statement written on the back and view the portrait.  This way the exhibit would be participatory and would help raise money and awareness for the local homeless population. For Christmas my aunt and I bought fifteen rotisserie Chickens at Costco, along with water and mandarins, and handed them out to the homeless that I have been photographing.